Christ's Exaltation, Part 1
Christ’s Exaltation: Part 1, 2.23.20
This morning we’re going to take a brief pause from our exposition of the book of Philippians. Don’t worry! We have a lot more to cover in this wonderful book. We’ll return to it next week. For this week, though, we’re going to step out of Philippians to explore an important theological topic. The topic that we will be exploring will be Christ’s Exaltation.
Even though we won’t be in Philippians this morning, this idea of exaltation comes from Philippians. The reason why we are exploring Christ’s exaltation is because of what Paul says in Phil 2:9. Paul says this,
Therefore God has highly exalted him
You see that verb “highly exalted?” That’s the concept, the Father’s exaltation of the Son of God after his suffering on the cross, that we are going to explore this morning. And we are going to explore it outside of this Philippians passage. While Paul does discuss and describe Jesus’ exaltation in this passage, there is a lot more material outside of the passage that is important to consider when exploring this notion of exaltation.
Christ’s exaltation is a central facet of Christian theology. The gospel hinges on Jesus’ exaltation. We do not come together as a church to celebrate a dead Messiah. That would be a hopeless religion. Our gospel proclamation does not end at the cross. Jesus is not still on the cross. He no longer suffers for our sins. He is no longer being humiliated. He is exalted. He is alive. He reigns. He is Lord of heaven and earth.
However, Christ’s exaltation is, I think, a neglected topic of Christian theology. In my estimation, it is the Christ’s humiliation, his life and death, that tend to be focused upon more than his exaltation. If you were to ask a normal, everyday Christian in the US, “What is the gospel?” I think they would answer, “The gospel is the message that Jesus has died for our sins?” That answer neglects Jesus’ exaltation. The gospel is not just the message of Jesus’ death. As central as the atonement is, there is more to the gospel than just Jesus’ death. The gospel is the story that Jesus has died for our sins and that Jesus has risen from the dead. The gospel is a message of hope. We get this hope from Christ’s exaltation. It is essential.
So, next week we will explore Phil 2:9–11 next week. Study that passage this week on your own. For this week, we will explore Christ’s exaltation as it is presented outside of Philippians 2. That is where we are headed this morning. That is our goal.
This morning I ask for you renewed focus with me. I will have you turn to more passages of Scripture this morning than I usually have you turn to. We will be bouncing around in our Bibles more than usual. I ask for you engagement as we do this. I want you to see in the Bible where I am getting my beliefs from. It’s not ultimately what I say, it is what Scripture says. Amen?
How Is Christ’s Exaltation Possible?
I have two points for you this morning. Both points are in the form of questions. The first point, the first question is this: How is Christ’s exaltation possible? How is Christ’s exaltation possible? That’s our first point.
This doctrine of exaltation refers Jesus’ advancement, progression, and attaining honor after his death. For Jesus to be exalted means that prior to his exaltation that Jesus was not exalted. It means that Jesus is raised to a level of honor and status after his crucifixion that he did not have or attain prior to his crucifixion. It means that Jesus was more exalted after his crucifixion than he was prior to his crucifixion.
If what I am saying is true, then we run into a theological problem here. The problem relates to the idea that, as a divine being, Jesus is exalted. How, though, can a divine being be exalted? Isn’t God perfect in every way and therefore unable to improve, advance, change, or be further exalted than he already is? By suggesting that Jesus was exalted, aren’t I also suggesting that a divine being can be improved upon, exalted, and changed?
The problem that we confront here is like the problem we ran into last week with Jesus’ humiliation. Last week I mentioned that many not Christians object to Christianity because Christians teach that Jesus, a divine being, God himself, died on the cross. If you listened to that sermon, I suggested this criticism does not work because Jesus is both God and man. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God, himself fully God, could suffer by means of humanity. Jesus’ humanity makes it possible that he could suffer.
That same answer applies with Jesus’ exaltation as well. The reason why we can affirm that Jesus could be exalted and was exalted is because Jesus is both God and man. Jesus was exalted in accordance with his human nature. If Jesus were not truly man, he could not be exalted. His humanity makes possible his exaltation. Jesus is exalted according to his humanity to a place after his crucifixion that he did not have prior to his exaltation.
This idea of exaltation fits into the broader reality that Scripture presents to us regarding Jesus’ development and maturity. All throughout Scripture we see references to Jesus’ progression and development. Turn with me to Luke 2:51. We will read through v. 52. Luke writes,
And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
This last comment in v. 52 is the actual truth. Jesus, as a full human, “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Many Christians, when they read that, don’t know how to interpret that. They’ll say, “Well, Jesus did not really grow in wisdom and stature. He couldn’t have. He was fully God!”
We want to step away from that type of thinking. That type of thinking, the type that recognizes Jesus’ deity but downplays his humanity, makes it impossible for us to understand what
Scripture teaches regarding who Jesus is. We must view Jesus as the God-man. He is truly God and truly man. And it is his humanity that makes possible his exaltation.
What is Christ’s Exaltation?
Now that we understand that Jesus’ humanity makes possible his exaltation, let’s now explore what exactly is Christ’s exaltation. Here we transition into our second point. This is it: “What is Christ’s exaltation?” The first point, question was, “How is Christ’s Exaltation Possible?” The second point, question is, “What is Christ’s Exaltation?”
Last week I used the metaphor of a ladder to discuss Christ’s humiliation. I argued that what Jesus does in this passage is he descends a latter of humiliation. He starts in heaven, as the divine, pre-existent Son of God, he becomes incarnate, he dies, and he finds his demise on a Roman cross. Each step is a further step of humiliation taken by Christ.
I want to tackle this question of “What is Christ’s exaltation?” using the same metaphor of a ladder. In last week’s sermon, Jesus went down the ladder of humiliation. This week, Jesus will ascend the ladder of exaltation. He’ll go up. Just as there were steps in his humiliation, so also there are steps in his exaltation. We will use a ladder to examine these steps.
Now the first question we must ask is what is the first wrung in Jesus’ ladder of exaltation. Where does he start? Another way to ask this question is this: “After Jesus died, where did he soul go? In between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, where was Jesus’ soul?” His body was in the grave. Where was his soul?
This is a controversial question. Many good evangelical Christians disagree about it. Some Christians believe that his soul went with to be with the Father. Other Christians believe that his soul descended into the place of the dead, the underworld. This idea is captured in the Apostle’s Creed reference, “He descended into hell.”
My own view is that in between his death and his resurrection that Jesus descended by means of his soul to the underworld. I do not believe that Jesus went to hell, as in the lake of fire. I do not believe that Jesus suffered after his crucifixion. I do believe that Jesus descended into the abyss, the underworld, the place of the dead, and/or Sheol.
Now, pastor, where in the Bible is this taught? Great question. Remember, it’s not what I say but what the Bible says. Turn to Romans 10:6. We’ll read through v. 7. The passage reads,
But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
What Paul is saying here is that saving faith is not based upon what it is that humans can do but on what Christ has done. Specifically, we are not able by faith to bring Christ down to us. That’s v. 6. Also, we are not able by faith to bring Christ up from the dead. Faith, Paul says, responds to what God has done. Faith does not accomplish the events of salvation history.
Now notice that Paul highlights two events here. The first event is mentioned in v. 6. That’s Christ ascension into heaven. The second event is mention in v. 7. What event is that? It’s his descent “into the abyss.” It’s his descent into “the place of the dead.” “The abyss” and “from the dead” in v. 7 are referencing the same place. The abyss is the place of the dead. And the place of the dead is the abyss. Paul is assuming here, with this discussion of faith, that Jesus descended into the abyss, into the place of the dead.
Now what was Jesus doing in the abyss in between his death and resurrection? He did this to rescue OT believers from the underworld and transfer them to heaven, to preach the gospel in the underworld, and to conquer his foes in the underworld. He rescued OT saints and vanquished the demonic forces.
There are other passage for this belief in Jesus’ descent into the place of the dead, into the underworld, into the abyss. This is one of the strongest passages for it. If you would like some more passage, feel free to request those.
The second step on the ladder, the second stage in Jesus’ exaltation is his resurrection. This is a step that all Christians agree on. You cannot be a Christian and deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can certainly disagree with me about the previous point, Jesus’ descent into the realm of the dead, and still be a Christian. Christians can and do disagree about this. With the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the reality is different. There are some hard doctrinal boundaries to the Christian faith. Jesus’ bodily resurrection is one of those boundaries.
After his descent into the abyss on Saturday, Jesus’ soul was reunited with his body on Sunday morning. His body, though, was different than what it had been during his time on earth prior to his crucifixion. He had a resurrected body. His body was transformed. Jesus’ resurrection occurred when his soul united with his resurrected body. At that moment, Jesus was resurrected. He stood up in his tomb, and bodily left the tomb. In that moment, death, the grave, Sheol, the abyss, sin, the devil, and every other force of evil was defeated. Praise the Lord.
Turn to 1 Pet 1:3 with me. Let’s read through v. 4. Look what Peter says of the resurrection.
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
What’s Jesus’ exaltation in the resurrection means for you is that you have hope in this life. Notice that Peter says here, “living hope.” We don’t just have hope. We have a living hope. Why? Because Jesus is alive. And this living hope has as its fulfilment, the beginning of v. 4, an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” That refers to our future life. Our next life.
Through Jesus’ resurrection he guarantees your bodily resurrection, dear friend. This future resurrection is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Nothing can take this away from you, dear Christian. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor
anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And why do I know that? What does Paul know that? Why does Peter know that? He knows that because of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. What great hope we have.
After the resurrection comes the ascension. Jesus starts in the realm of the dead, is reunited with his new body in the resurrection, and then proceeds to bodily ascend to the Father.
In Acts 1, Luke specifies that there was a period of forty days, in between his resurrection and ascension, that Jesus spent with his disciples here on earth. Not much is said in Scripture about these forty days. We are simply told that Jesus taught the disciples. After these forty days, Jesus bodily ascended to the Father.
The ascension of Jesus to the Father signified several different truths. One truth that I would like to deal with is the relationship with Jesus’ ascension is the progression of salvation history. Turn with me to John 16:5 to better understand Jesus’ ascension. We will read through v. 8.
But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.
What Jesus mentions in this passage is that one day he will leave the disciples. He will “go away.” This reference to “going away” is not his death. It was not after his death that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. It was after his ascension that the Holy Spirit came. That’s what Acts 1 through 2 teaches. Jesus’ reference to going away here in this John passage is a reference to the ascension.
Notice that Jesus says it is better that he goes away, it is better that Jesus ascends to the Father than if he hadn’t. Now look at the reason Jesus gives. If Jesus does not ascend, then the Holy Spirit will not come.
What the ascension does is that it ushers in a new chapter in the history of redemption. Prior to the ascension, there is no outpouring of the Spirit. The OT saints did not have the Spirit like NT Christians do. We have the Spirit in the way that OT saints did not. That changes, though, with the ascension. The ascension is the pivot in how the Holy Spirit deals with God’s people. The ascension is the event that unlocks for the people of God the outpouring of his Spirit.
The last step in Jesus’ exaltation, the highest wrung on the ladder of his exaltation, is his enthronement. After Jesus ascended to the Father, the Bible teaches that he sat down on a throne. Repeatedly, the Bible says that Jesus is seated on a throne. This is the final step of exaltation.
Turn with me to Heb 10:11. I will read through v. 13.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
What this passage is teaching us is that due to the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, he can now rest from his priestly requirement to offer atonement. The author of Hebrews is contrasting Christ as priest in comparison with OT priests. OT priests constantly had to offer sacrifice. Their work was never completed. They could never rest from their work of sacrifice. They had to constantly stand; they could never sit. Sitting signifies resting from the work. OT priests couldn’t do this because their sacrifices were not sufficient. They were shadows of the true reality.
Unlike these OT priests, Jesus could sit down. His atonement was different than the OT priests. His atonement, by means of his own blood, was fully sufficient to take away your sins. You need add nothing to it. Jesus’ blood is sufficient for your sins.
Because of Jesus’ sufficient atonement, he can now rest from his priestly work of atonement. This rest, this completion of his sacrifice, is signified by his sitting down. His work is complete. It’s total. It needs nothing else for it to be accomplished. He now rests from this work.
We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning, dear friends. We started with the possibility of Jesus’ exaltation, then examined his ladder of exaltation. The ladder begins with Jesus’ descent into the abyss. That’s the first step. He went down there to rescue OT saints, to preach the gospel to the devils, and to take from death and hades their power and authority. Next, Jesus was resurrected. We have hope, dear friend. He reigns. He lives. Next, Jesus ascended to the Father. As a result, we now have the outpouring of the Spirit. The Spirit reigns in NT Christians in a way that he did not reign in OT Christians. Lastly, Jesus is enthroned in heaven. He’s enthronement signifies that he can now rest from his priestly duty of offering a sacrifice. His sacrifice was sufficient. His blood atones for your sins. He is the true high priest.
Summing up Christ’s exaltation in it’s most simple fashion—Christ’s exaltation means that Jesus is Lord.
To conclude this morning, I’d like to make a cultural highlight. This past week the popular singer Justin Bieber gave an extended interview in which he opened up about a lot of personal issues. Now, I am not a Justin Bieber fan. And I don’t support everything he does. But listen to what he said in this interview.
The interviewer asked him about some of the recent changes in his life. Bieber responds his conception of who Jesus radically changed.
Following Jesus is actually turning away from sin. There’s no faith without obedience. I had faith that Jesus died on the cross with me but I never really implemented it into my life.
In Bieber’s previous life, he acknowledged Jesus death, his humiliation, but did not recognize Jesus Lordship, his exaltation. He wanted the benefits that came with Christ’s humiliation but none of the responsibilities that come with Christ’s exaltation.
Many of you do this, too. You want Jesus to save you, you want to go to heaven, you want Jesus to bless you and your family, but when Jesus says, “You must obey me.” You say, “No thanks.”
This is a grievous sin, dear brothers and sisters. It is false religion. Jesus gives you his life in his death and now demands your life in his exaltation. He is King. He reigns in heaven. His word is true. He commandments are law. They’re not suggestions. His word is law. We must obey him. And we must obey him now. As Justin Bieber said, “There is no faith without obedience.” Obey Jesus Christ.